Category Archives: Saving Money

Quality Installation and Maintenance of HVAC Equipment

The news this month has multiple stories about Heating and Air Companies being very busy with units not cooling or not cooling enough.Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 8.49.56 AM Driving around town, I see most of these contractors have a sign out front looking for help. The wait time is up to two weeks.  In the 7 homes I’ve been in this week.  One had no working AC, one home was on it’s last legs, and two other homeowners were very concerned. For the 1st time in 7 years, I’m getting calls from my website asking if I can fix their AC unit.

This morning I found a report on HVAC Problems, Problem Identification and Repair.  I have scanned this 27 page report and these are the things that jumped out.

Background:  California has some of the toughest energy requirements for buildings, both new and remodeling of existing buildings. These is a direct result of the problems they had 15 years ago, with not enough electricity.  They resulted to black outs, (Utilitys were allowed to shut off electricity to various geographic areas).  and brown outs, (Utilities were allowed to provide only part of the electricity needed to a geographic area).  Both are not good.

These energy codes are generally referred to as Title 24.  A large part of the work in California the last few years has been testing and measuring how well the requirements are being met.  This report is just one small piece of that process.

Title 24 refers to the problems, their identification and repair as “Fault Detection and Diagnosis” or “FDD”

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 8.51.18 AM

The Report was working on the answers to these questions

  • Is FDD worth the investment, and what is the savings potential?
  • How effective are available FDD methods and what do they cost to implement?
  • What training is needed for effective FDD and is it being provided?
  • Are codes and standards working?
  • What are the major gaps and how can they be addressed?

This particular session and reporting was limited to:

 

  • System Types–new and existing residential only
    • Air conditioners
    • Heat pumps
    • Furnaces and air handlers
  • Fault Types
    • Low airflow
    • Refrigerant system charge, restrictions, and contaminants
    • Mechanical and electrical faults and faulty installation
  • Repair vs. Replacement Issues
    • Cost-effectiveness of FDD
    • Replacement refrigerants for R-22
  • Human Factors
    • Training and quality of maintenance
    • Homeowner knowledge and expectations.

The reporting included tests applied with standard AHRI methods. The tests were designed to determine the impacts on efficiency and capacity of a variety of conditions, including:

  • Airflow of 250 cfm/ton reduced energy efficiency ratio (EER) by 12% and has the potential to produce a false overcharge diagnostic due to freezing of the coil (the asterisk denotes an unofficial EER)
  • Liquid line restrictions (e.g. due to clogged filter-dryer or metering devices) reduced EER by 30% to 36% for non-TXV and TXV systems respectively
  • Only 0.3% Nitrogen in the refrigerant reduced the EER  by 18% with no TXV and 12% for the TXV-equipped system

Discussion pointed out that California Title 24 charge verification methods, which only measure superheat (for non-TXV) and sub-cooling (for TXV) systems, and ACCA Standard 4, for which only 3% of the procedures are related to energy performance. Also covered were  how improperly maintained vacuum pumps, test instrument error, and poor service practices such as use of rules of thumb contribute to the introduction of non-condensables, improper charge, and other faults.

John Proctor, PE presented a case for making improvements to California’s Title 24 standards, John worked with a team to inspect a large number of recently built homes to identify HVAC installation and performance issues. He began his presentation by defining an “incremental effectiveness ratio” that divides benefits of maintenance by the incremental cost to diagnose, repair, and ensure quality, which is fundamental to the question of the value of HVAC service. He proceeded to show a series of graphs from his experience and other studies that illustrate the deviations from the ideal for airflow, charge, duct leakage and efficiency, and non-condensables, as well as the incidence of occurrence of these defects.

For example, his graphs show:

  • 50% reduction in airflow reduces EER by 25%.
  • A refrigerant charge that is 70% of the recommended charge reduces EER by about 55%.
  • Leaving Nitrogen in the line set and coil at 20 psig before charging with refrigerant reduces the sensible EER by about 45%.
  • From his 2003 survey, more than 60% of the houses checked failed on refrigerant charge, airflow, and duct leakage, and more than 95% failed overall.

Many of these issues result from a lack of training and a lack of follow up by supervisors.

They had some specific things that could be done by builders, HVAC Contractors and home owners to ensure these items do not get missed.

I will read the report in more detail and have further comments.

You may read the entire report.

The First Clothes Dryers to Earn the Energy Star Label Now Available Nationwide

ES DryerEnergy Star Press Release Date: 02/10/2015

Contact Information: Jennifer Colaizzi, colaizzi.jennifer@epa.gov, 202-564-7776, 202-564-4355

WASHINGTON –The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that Energy Star certified clothes dryers are now available nationwide through major retailers. At least 45 models of dryers earning the Energy Star label, including Whirlpool, Maytag, Kenmore, LG, and Safemate, are at least 20 percent more efficient and now available at prices comparable to standard dryers. 

“Dryers are one of the most common household appliances and the biggest energy users,” said U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “EPA’s Energy Star certified clothes dryers offer Americans an opportunity to save energy and do their part to combat climate change. By working with industry, we are bringing innovative technology to market that’s good for the planet.”

Clothes dryers consume more energy than any other appliance in the home, and 80 percent of American homes have dryers. But unlike clothes washers, which have seen a 70 percent drop in energy use since 1990, the energy efficiency of most dryers has not improved. If all residential clothes dryers sold in the U.S. were Energy Star certified, Americans could save $1.5 billion each year in utility costs and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equal to the electricity use from more than 1.3 million homes.

The efficiency specifications were developed with extensive input from manufacturers, retailers, the U.S. Department of Energy, and environmental groups. Manufacturers meet the specification requirements by incorporating advanced sensors that more effectively detect when clothes are dry and stop the dryer.

Energy Star certified dryers include gas, electric and compact models. The Energy Star label can also be found on dryers that feature new advanced heat pump technology and are 40 percent more efficient than conventional models. Heat pump dryers recapture the hot air used by the dryer and pump it back into the drum. By re-using most of the heat, a heat pump dryer is more efficient and avoids the need for ducts.
For the complete Press Release:

What Tools do you carry in your Tool kit?

I have all sorts of small items in mine; a list would include flashlight,  screwdriver, hammer, tape measures, wrenches, my blower door and infrared imaging camera.  Plus a bunch of flashlights. Yep!  A bunch of flashlights.  I like those everywhere, usually two at a time.flashlights

What kind of tools do you carry?

furnaceAn HVAC Tech might have the first part of my list, and a set of pressure gauges and thermometers instead of my specialized equipment.  Yes, I don’t really need his specialized equipment.

An Install Tech for an Insulation Company would probably have the general stuff and some specialized tools like an insulation blower, staple guns, and an air compressor.

Yes, the work you do requires certain tools. Most tools are fairly general and found in almost everyone’s tool kit, some are specialized to the work we do.

Now that I have pointed out the obvious, everyone maybe wondering why I’m thinking about tools and home performance. So lets connect the dots a little.

First, what happens if you get to the job and you can’t find a screw driver?  It has happened to me more than once!  I just hate that!  How many knife blades have we broken on our pocket knives when we find ourselves in that position?  We still have a job to do and the wrong tool takes longer, sometimes with banged knuckles.

What happens when the products or services we provide to our customers, can perhaps meet their need, like the blade on a pocket knife, but do not meet the need like a screwdriver?  That is the position many in the building performance are find themselves in.  They have a customer that is uncomfortable in their own home or a business with uncomfortable employees and customers.  How does the management design a solution for their techs to implement and thus satisfy their customer, making them comfortable again.  As a business, we each try to provide the solution to the customer from our stock.  That is how we get paid. You don’t pay the mechanic that fixes your car, when the plumbing needs to be fixed.  You pay the plumber, after the drain works again.

So you have a room that is Hot in the Summer and Cold in the winter?  Who do you call and what solution do the problem do you implement?Insulation Blown

If you call a Heating / Cooling contractor, they have equipment on the shelf, probably not insulation. So you will have a proposal to change your equipment for bigger units or perhaps to add a unit. The proposal will certainly involve equipment.  After all, if your mid size car gets you to the store, a larger car will get you there with more comfort.  Would you expect your HVAC contractor to recommend insulation?

What is the actual answer to to your comfort situation? Larger equipment with more punch or some insulation?  What if your solution does not involve either equipment or insulation?

Now we are back to the tools of our Trades!  What tools do you have?  Equipment, Insulation, Air Sealing, Windows?  The solutions you provide must involve the tools of your trade. That is why a savvy homeowner might consult with more than one contractor.  That is a great argument for savvy contractors to partner with contractors and others that work on changing the energy use in your home or business. Why should a good contractor limit themselves to providing only part of the solution.

Air SealingThis is happening in many areas of the country.  Contractors are partnering with others in their area to build home performance teams. There are contractors in Wichita that are moving in this direction.  I think that is great!

Deciding on the measures that will solve your comfort concerns, while bringing down your energy costs, involves a team that includes all of the contractors and a Energy Specialist that does not have a product on the shelf to sell you. The ability to recommend, without having a financial interest in the products, has been valued by many home owners. An Audit by Efficient Energy Savers, provides you with the independence in evaluation, and recommendations needed to get the answer you are actually looking for.

 

Comments on The Previous Post

A few minutes ago, I posted a Press Release on changes to the 2015 Energy Codes.  If you read the list of groups supporting this change, you will find me listed.

Energy Codes have been in existence since 1992. They require levels of insulation, other energy efficient features and address how these items are installed.  There have been adjustments to them over the years. As the cost of electricity and other forms of energy rise, increasing the levels of insulation makes financial sense. As companies develop new products, for example the green sheathing used on many new homes in the Wichita area.

Wichita / Sedgwick County have not chosen to adopt an Energy Code. There is no legal requirement to build a home or building in Wichita and install insulation.

I support this change in the enforcement of codes because it is a ‘Free Market’ approach to the problem.

When people hear a home can be legally built with no insulation, they are very surprised.  Their expectation is that government requires that.  When my daughter was looking at buying a home in 2007-08; I heard one builder’s sales person tell her: “We build Energy Efficient Homes! We used to put R-19 in the attic; now with put R-25! That is Energy Efficient!”  Yet, the recommended code at that time for Wichita called for R-38 in the attic.

A ‘Free Market’ has been defined as the price a willing and informed seller and a willing and informed buyer agree upon!  I think that is important, to have willing and informed sellers and buyers.

If you don’t have an informed buyer; you can’t have a free market.  Consumers want something they value, if they are informed, they can make a decision that meets their needs. It may be a different decision than you would make with the same information.

This proposal would allow a builder to choose to add extra insulation to a home or to install more efficient equipment to his home as they choose to meet or exceed the competition.

This proposal allows a local government to require a level of energy performance from new homes. It allows the builder to decide how he wants to achieve that level. It doesn’t not require the local government to hire any additional inspectors or add training to existing inspectors.

When you look at buying a car, you can look at the Mileage Sticker on the window.  You may or may not use that in your final decision.  With this in the code, you can look at the sticker on the electrical box.  Then you can choose to use it or not use it in your decision.

A few years from now, when a new home is resold, the sticker will be there. Consumers can look at it and make informed decisions again.

Disclosure:  Yes,  part of our business is to Rate Homes for Energy Efficiency! This proposal if adopted by local governments could increase business.  It would also spur competition. It would not stop a home builder from training one of his employees to Rate his homes.  It would not stop an independent group, for example the Builders Association, from training someone and offering Ratings services to their members. It would not stop Energy Related Subcontractors from training an employee and offering Ratings to their customers.

The Press Release with links is found HERE

Some Results from Energy Improvements

When doing a Home Energy Audit, I always tell people that what I find is not good or bad. I tell them that what I can recommend for improvement depends on  the cost of their Utility Bills.

If you have a water leak, we all know that paying the price to a plumber to fix it, will cost us when the plumber comes. We also know if we don’t fix it, we can pay the water company that amount over 1 or 2 or 6 months. How long depends on the amount of the leak and the cost from the Utility for your water. And then we still have to pay the plumber. so we make a choice.

Blowing insulation into the walls!

Blowing insulation into the walls!

Wendy stuffing insulation into the hopper!

Wendy stuffing insulation into the hopper!

Some choices are easy, for improving the efficiency of a home.  Most homes with a tank type hot water heater inside the home, in a balanced or cooling climate (south of the Kansas / Oklahoma border) will benefit from installing a water heater insulating blanket.  They cost about $25.00 and typical savings just north of the above line can run from 6 – 8 dollars per year. So at $6 bucks a year, the blanket pays for itself in about 4 years. And most people can afford $25.00.

Other choices are somewhat tougher.  Instead of $25.00 to invest in the improvement, cost can run $2,000 to insulate a basement.  If you spend time down there, you know it is a little colder in both the winter (brrr) and the summer (nice), then upstairs.  Again, using some Wichita area numbers a homeowner could save in the area of $350 per year. Each house is different, so I am using some averages from various audits. If you apply this  savings over 6 years, the insulation is paid for and you still save the money. The hitch? It is harder to come up with $2,000 instead of $25.00.

In 2011, I had an Energy Efficiency Project approved under the Efficiency Kansas Program. They loaned some cost, I paid some costs and we added some (a bunch) of insulation, air sealing to cut the infiltration, replaced a 18 year old furnace and air conditioner. I also added an Energy Recovery Ventilator.

Wade in the attic! Fixing a dropped soffit in the kitchen! You can see the 3:12 pitch on my roof.

Wade in the attic! Fixing a dropped soffit in the kitchen! You can see the 3:12 pitch on my roof.

My payment over the 15 year loan is 870 per year, due monthly on my Utility Bill.  So the question is, how did I do with saving some money?  I have been tracking my Natural Gas and Electric billings, with numbers going back to 2009. When I changed HVAC systems, I went to an electric Heat Pump with a gas furnace for back up or emergency heat. As a result, my gas bill dropped and the electric bill, which includes the loan repayment amount is higher than I can remember.

To account for the change, I had to do something with the natural gas, billed in MCF (1,000 cubic feet) and the electricity, billed in KWH (kilowatt-hours).  I decided to convert the gas usage to KWH for ease in comparing before and after.  I also wanted to be able to compare usage against the weather.  Some summers are hotter than others and some winters are warmer then others.

The National Weather Service tracks our weather very well.  You can get an F-6 Report from most airports around the country. In Wichita, we have a choice of 3.  There is Mid-Continent, the primary commercial airport; there is Jabara Airport, a smaller facility that specializes in private airplanes.  And we have McConnell AFB.  All have weather observations and reporting.

The F6 NOAA Report for March, 2011 at ICT. The 2 columns between the red lines show the HDD and CDD.

The F6 NOAA Report for March, 2011 at ICT. The 2 columns between the red lines show the HDD and CDD.

How did I compare the before and after?   Excel works great for prototyping number crunching and charting the results.  I collected my data on usage, cost and Degree Days from the Weather Service.  I built two charts. First one covering January 2009 through present. After looking at this chart, I built another showing January 2011 through present.

The charts show three (3) lines. The Blue Line represents Heating Intensity by month.  I took Heating Degree days, multiplying by 5.  The Red Line represents Cooling Intensity by month. I took Cooling Degree days, multiplying by 3.5.  The Green line represents Energy, show in KWH.  I converted my gas usage to KWH by ” MCF x 293 “. Then I added the KWH from Electric and Gas to chart the Green Line.4 years

2009              2010                     2011                  2012                 2013

If you look at the top peaks of the Blue Line – you see the cold months. Imagine a level line averaging those tops. Somewhere between 4000 and 5000 on the Y-Axis. Look at the Red Line Peaks – you see the hot months. Imagine a level line on the Average of those peaks, just a little over the 2000 on the Y-Axis.

Now look at the Green Line, it goes up in the winter, and summer, down in the spring and the fall. This line doesn’t really run level on the peaks. If you pick about 6500 on the Y Axis in 2009 and 2500 in 2013, the line slopes down.  The Red vertical line shows when the improvements were made. This chart shows 3 years prior to the date of improvements and 1 year after.

The Chart below just shows one year before and 1 year after.  So the horizontal spreads out a little. I think the point is made in either chart.  The improvements require less energy to be purchased.

How much less in dollars, instead of Energy Usage? I’m saving my 870 annual repayment amount plus enough to repay myself over 15 years for what I kicked in.  And a little extra.

2 years

2011                                    2012                                   2013

Some one will ask why did I adjust the HDD and CDD numbers.  I did it to match the scales on the charts.  I first set it up with direct numbers. When you looked at the chart you could not make out any significant ups or downs to compare. So I reworked the numbers with multipliers, to make the charted numbers line up better.

In September, 2011 the chart shows 155 HDD, 591 CDD, the energy usage in KWH is 2261.  In September, 2012 the chart shows 0 HDD, 960 CDD with 1217 KWH used. Using the same Y-axis scale required some changes. So I used a multiplier to move from direct Degree Days for Heating and Cooling to an intensity measure for heating and cooling.

Thanks for following along.  I will make another post with more of this story.

You have an Energy Star New Home – How accurate are the Projections?

This study is of interest to all HVAC, Insulation Contractors. It is also important to Home Owners.  An Energy Audit makes recommendations and projects cost effectiveness based on a computer model of the Energy Use in each specific home.

How much can you count on those projections? Home Energy Usage depends on three things!

  • First:  The Weather!
  • Second: The Lifestyle of the Family in the Home!
  • Third: The construction of the Home!

Mother Nature has control of the weather! Lifestyle is the difference between having 3 High School Football Players in the family, or 3 High School Cheerleaders.  Energy use will be different. Then what happens to the use when those kids go off to college.

This study actually compares the projections from several hundreds of thousands of homes to their actual usage.  You can read the RESNET Summary. You can read the report itself. I have reprinted the Summary with the link to the Report below.

The original Summary can be read here.

My conclusions:

  • The correlation from projected usage to measured usage over time justifies the reliance on computer modeling using the software to guide your decisions on prioritizing improvements in energy efficiency to your existing home.
  • The correlation of projections for Energy Star New Homes to actual usage gives Builders, Contractors and Home Buyers the confidence to use an Energy Star New Home Certification for lowering the ongoing Operating Costs for Energy in a New Home Purchase.

John Nicholas

 

PROJECTIONS FROM HERS ACCURATE August 22nd, 2012

Posted by RESNET under RESNET News

Over the years, there have been discussions over how accurate are home energy ratings in predicting the energy use of rated homes. To enhance the discussion of the accuracy of home energy ratings’ energy use projections it would be good to review a study conducted and published by Advanced Energy on a large set of homes in Houston, Texas. The authors of the study were Michael Blasnik of M. Blasnik & Associates and Shaun Hassel and Benjamin Hannas of Advanced Energy. The objective of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency supported “Houston Energy Efficiency Study” was to assess the actual energy use of groups of homes built to different energy efficiency specifications in Metropolitan Houston – typical non-program (baseline) homes, ENERGY STAR® homes labeled by a Home Energy Rating and guaranteed performance homes.

More than 226,000 homes built from 2002 through 2007 by dozens of different production builders were included in this study. The large dataset also provided the opportunity to analyze how certain construction characteristics are related to actual energy usage. Data collected for this project included billing data for all new homes built in the CenterPoint utility service territory from 2002 through 2007, information from property assessor databases of four counties, detailed building characteristics for tens of thousands of ENERGY STAR homes from CenterPoint’s ENERGY STAR Homes tracking database, and detailed data files from energy raters including the home energy rating software tool, REM/Rate, input files and building shell and duct leakage test data. The study did not involve any direct data collection in the field but instead relied upon existing data sources.

This approach allowed the scope of the study to be much larger in terms of the number of homes analyzed but left some gaps in our understanding of some details, especially of baseline homes. The overall dataset includes hundreds of variables for 226,873 homes, including 114,035 potential baseline homes, 106,197 ENERGY STAR homes and 6,641 guaranteed performance homes.

Although consumption differences across groups of homes are smaller than advertised, ENERGY STAR homes perform very close to the predictions of the models on average, while baseline homes perform better than the reference homes defined by the HERS standard. ENERGY STAR uses a base case reference home defined as minimum local code specifications combined with the least efficient cooling, heating and hot water systems available, a leaky building envelope and a poor duct system. Using this yardstick to measure the performance of the ENERGY STAR houses in the study, they did quite well – showing a strong and fairly consistent relationship between actual and projected performance for both heating and cooling. Therefore the apparent lack of savings is attributable not to underperformance by the ENERGY STAR homes but to the fact that the baseline houses in Houston perform considerably better than the ENERGY STAR reference house.

The relationship between REM/Rate cooling load projections and actual electric usage was examined graphically and statistically for 10,258 homes with sufficient data. REM/Rate projected an average cooling load of 5,506 kWh/yr while the billing analysis estimated average cooling loads at 5,677 kWh/yr, about 3 percent higher – excellent overall agreement. Although the analysis found no systematic bias in the REM/rate cooling projections, there was a large amount of variability in the data. Findings revealed that the correlation was higher between house size and cooling load than between REM/Rate projected cooling load and actual usage. However, the study team feels confident in stating that when using current modeling software with energy-efficient new homes, there is a strong and fairly consistent relationship between actual and projected performance using REM/Rate for both heating and cooling. REM/Rate also estimated the average heating usage of program homes fairly well – only 4 percent lower than the measured loads.

To download the study click on Houston Energy Efficiency Study

Are You Going to Pay Me to Install Your Product? – Sales Claims!

I read a Blog Post from my friend Allison Bailes earlier today. He writes for his company Energy Vanguard.  You can read his Blog.  Lots of good stuff.

He ended the post today with this paragraph.

Really now. If a ground source heat pump is a renewable energy source, then so is a refrigerator. Can you see why this drives me crazy?

A few minutes ago, I was reading through my Twitter Stream. I ran across a Tweet that used a phrase, to quote Allison ‘This Drives Me Crazy!” Here is the Tweet:

     “If your central AC unit is more than 12 years old, replacing it with a new model  

       could save you 30%”

My question is 30% of what?  Your total gas, water and electric bills combined? Just your electric bill? or maybe just the cooling cost of your electric bill?

OK!  So, if it is probably a percentage of the cooling cost; where are they in this great country.  If they are where my friend Bud Poll can do their audit, well he says they don’t see too much AC in Maine! Down in the Texas Hill Country, they use quite a bit more! My friend Bob can do your audit down there. He says they don’t get much use out of their furnaces.  So which is it?  Wouldn’t it be nicer if these folks would give you a $$ figure?

Confusing, yes!  Now consider the other claims you hear!  A new furnace saves X%.  Added insulation can save you y%.  And let’s not forget those window guys! The will save you the most percent! If you believe the TV commercials.

Percentage Claims are meant to sway you to do something! They appeal to your emotions.  Because of the ambiguity they are not logical. Consider recent action over misleading and unproven claims by Window Manufacturers.  The Federal Trade Commission is charged with investigating complaints about Truth in Advertising. You can find the News Release and other info with a simple search on any of the search sites. Just use ‘window’  and ‘FTC’.

Window Marketers Settle FTC Charges That They Made Deceptive Energy Efficiency and Cost Savings Claims

Companies Must Have Scientific Evidence Before Making Marketing Claims

The release goes on to specifically target the percentage claims.

So when someone calls, knocks on your door or otherwise makes a claim that the product they are selling will save a percentage …..   think about it.

When I’m faced with claims on Twitter, mail coupons, TV commercials telling me how I can save 40% and 30% and 35% of my energy bills, I just have to ask:  “Are you going to pay me?”   Can you see why this drives me crazy?

A Twitter Conversation – Moving Along, Part 2

Previous Info on the Conversation

OK!  Since I posted Thursday night, things are moving.  People are talking to each other and it is becoming evident that a few more are involved that were not listed originally.  Also, not being from Derby, CT – where they have 200 – 300 year old houses, with much historical value to preserve – I am finding that I don’t know as much as I thought – or that I don’t know how to apply what I do know.

Additional Players that have been brought forth are:

  • Martin Holladay:  In the Twitterverse he is known as the Energy Nerd.  His blog is full of interesting stories and tidbits of knowledge.
  • Carl Seville:  His blog and in Twitterverse he is the Green Curmudgeon. He has his own outlook on all things Green and brings a wealth of info to the table from his experience as a builder.
  • Then there is JB.  Hailing all of us from Baltimore, JB is in construction and remodeling.  Since Baltimore has been around since before the night when ‘Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,’ was observed and recorded; they, like Derby, CT have some of those 200 – 300 year old homes to work with!  JB has a blog,  Building Moxie.

Welcome to the > 140 Convo.

Since Thursday

John P.  left a comment on Sean’s Blog Post regarding some of his concerns.

  • The stereotype carried by some that DER requires extreme measures.
  • Not destroying historic fabric
  • Reversible
  • The concept of ‘the house is a system’ means that houses built 300 years ago, may work well as their own system, but when a new construction method for current housing is introduced, then the law of unintended consequences intervenes.
  • Work on Energy Efficiency should be staged and completed over a number of phases and years.

He also discussed the definition of ‘Deep’, countering my proposed use of the Wiki definition at 30% reduction. John offered some additional criteria. Primarily he is proposing to include climate in the definition of Deep.

Updating the Conversation

I want to pose some questions and try to clarify where we are going and where we need to go. I also want to respond to John’s ideas on refining the definition of Deep.

John’s first point was stereotypes.  That is my word, and I chose it specifically because when people deal with what they assume about another they are creating a stereotype. I believe the best way to deal with those is to get to know the other person or position and thus my participation in this conversation.

The second point he makes is not destroying the Historic Fabric of the home.   I can agree to this one.  I don’t like changing the looks of a home, just to improve energy efficiency.

  1. It is usually not cost effective.
  2. It can become a distraction from the original intent.
  3. If you don’t like the looks of an old historic property, what are you doing working on one?

I believe his third and fourth points are inter-related.  If you cause a problem with a change in how the home works, you need to be able to undo the change.  Therefore, changing the exterior, by removing siding to install rigid foam insulation and then re-installing the original siding might be reversible. That would depend on how you treated the windows and doors due to the increased thickness of the walls.  In the end, I think most of these types of improvements will not be cost effective in energy savings.

In my first post is had a couple of points that I believe must be kept in mind.

Significant Savings from the improvements

  • Savings from improvements are probably best considered significant over a 15 – 25 year period. At the end of that time, a different property owner may be present, new methods of improvements may be available, increased prices of energy make a revision of the cost effectiveness calculations essential.

Work that is Safety Related may not have a dollar savings.

  • How do you calculate the savings in replacing Knob and tube wiring with modern wiring?
  • What about reductions in water presence anywhere in the building that it is not designed to be? What about comfort of the building occupants? When people are uncomfortable, they do many things. Electric resistance space heaters are expensive to operate and are unsafe.
  • Other items related to Building Code issues.

Defining a Deep Energy Retrofit. #DER

The closest I have worked to one of Derby, CT’s older houses is a 92 year old home in Wichita.  I wrote about that audit and the following upgrades in ‘What Good is an Energy Audit?’  The cost effectiveness I think should considered is illustrated here by the proposed improvement to the uninsulated walls. It took 99 years. Doing it for less would have involved drilling the brick exterior and leaving an obvious patch.

With the exception of the exposed insulation on the basement walls and weatherstripping on one door, none of the energy efficient improvements were visible. The total cost of  improvements will be returned to the homeowner in 14 years, assuming no increase in electric or natural gas rates.

In percentage terms, this plan mets the definition of 30% or more. If you look at energy cost reduction, it figures at 36%; if you look at peak power reduction (summer) it is 41%; if you look at CarbonDioxide reduction it is 34%.

The insulation contractor on this project was Northstar Comfort Systems. @Nstarcomfort They did a good job, the home owner is very pleased and the project verification was achieved on the first visit.

John has suggested adding climate into the definition of deep. I think it is already there.  If you moved this house from Wichita to Maine, the pre-improvment costs would be higher, due to weather and cost of energy. Weather is obvious, cost of electricity in KS is about 10 cents per KWH and in Maine about 17 cents.  The reduction in use of BTU would be at least what it was here in Wichita.

I don’t think climate needs to be added because it is already there. The idea of savings has to be based on what the house is already spending.  Weather is part of that calculation.

I think a simple percentage is adequate to define Deep. It works, it accounts for all variables and it follows the KISS principle. It works for several different metrics, dollars, BTU or your favorite energy measure, or environmental like carbon.

Comfort and Safety

I think the ideas of safety should be self evident and I would also include durability in them.  If a home is aged in centuries, it must have been durable.  If a home is aged in decades, it must have been durable. It is up to every homeowner to continue to maintain and improve on durability.  That is why we look at a new roof or repainting our homes periodically.

Comfort is a different issue, that really doesn’t have a price tag. I have found that people living in a home they think is uncomfortable do many things to obtain comfort. They continually adjust the thermostat, they add electric space heaters, or window air conditioners.  These are expensive. They sell the home and then the next owner can be uncomfortable.

The first example of comfort came when I was doing my due diligence in starting my career in Energy Efficiency. I attended a seminar at a local home show on Energy Efficiency. The presenter related one of his experiences with comfort instead of purely cost reductions.

He had done some duct leakage testing in his own home and found the duct leakage was a major contributor to the cold bedroom of his daughter.  This led to an easy fix of sealing the accessible duct work. For this example, I would thank Jeff Boone @JFBoone of Northstar Comfort Systems.

Information I Need

John points out a, new to me take, on the house is a system. Building Science has always considered the house to be one system. If you change an item, something else will probably change.  The corollary to this is ‘First, do no harm!’. If you make or recommend a change, you should look at what else may change and take steps to ensure the reactions to your first change are positive for the house and the occupants, not negative. Examples would include:

  • Adding insulation to one side or the other of an exterior wall could change how the wall dries. That change could cause mold and decrease the quality of indoor air quality.
  • Doing air sealing work can make significant energy savings. Decreasing the ventilation through infiltration could create a dangerous situation, if the decreased amount of fresh air will not support the needs of the hot water heater and furnace.

John expands on this by adding the concept that a house as a system can be specific to a type of construction. A house built with techniques in common use in 1800 would have the system effected if the improvement used some technique that is in common use today. This is something I need to know more about.

  • How different do the original construction techniques need to be for this to become significant?
  • Is it something that that only happens in a 200 year swing of construction techniques?
  • Is it something that occurs in applying today’s techniques to a ballon framed Victorian?

Conclusions

The goal of this post was to advance the conversation #DER with some basis and examples of the proposed definition of Deep and to set out that energy efficiency improvements are never a goal in and of themselves.

It is not a good idea to do an improvement that will not last. It is not a good idea to ignore comfort issues. We must protect the occupants of the home from hidden dangers, such as carbon monoxide, or water damage. When improving the energy efficiency of a home, it is very easy to improve the durability of the improvement with choosing the right material, and including the protective installation, for example flashing or a drainage plane around insulation.

I look forward to following the #DER conversation in more than 140 char bites.

 

Deep Energy Retrofits – A Twitter Conversation

My first Twitter Follower was SLS Construction.  He posted on his blog tonight about a Twitter Convo that I was participating in.

You can read Sean’s Blog Post here.  He does a great job for homeowners in general and for Energy Efficiency.

I jumped into a conversation between my friend John Poole of Derby, Connecticut and Peter Troast of Energy Circle.

John lives in a Derby that is very old.  In Connecticut they have houses that are 200 – 300 years old.  I live in Derby that is not so old. In Kansas and we do not have houses that old. John has a blog about preserving those old houses.  You can read John’s Blog here.  He has a neat Point of View and some very good experience.

Peter is CEO of Energy Circle. They work at explaining problems in building science, and providing real, actionable insights for homeowners to increase the energy efficiency of their homes. Energy Circle also provides energy efficient devices and products for consumers and marketing services to Energy Raters and Auditors.

Others that were mentioned in this convo were Chris Laumer-Giddens and Energy Vanguard.  Chris is an Architect and Energy Guy, Energy Vanguard, a twitter handle for Allison Bailes, is a physicist, energy guru and a juggler of some fame.  They hang out in Atlanta and other places, where Ya’ll is common.  You can find them at Energy Vanguard.

Here is a shot of part of the convo, just before I jumped in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Somewhat later, John (from Derby, CT) posted a link to the Wiki definition of a Deep Energy Retrofit.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_energy_retrofit

Wiki uses a 30% reduction in energy use as a line to define deep as in Deep Energy Retrofit.  I can accept a 30 % reduction for deep.

That level of reduction eliminates, in my climate zone (4), moving from an old 60 AFUE furnace to a 95 AFUE furnace, or a new AC unit, or spending a couple thousand dollars on windows, none of which will reduce an annual energy bill by 30%.  At this level, it would require air sealing work to reduce infiltration, insulation and then take a look at the equipment.

Any discussion of Energy Efficient Improvements, for me, also must involve some type of significant savings to cover the cost, and probably some work that will significantly improve the comfort, quality and durability of the home and the lives of the people living there.

Without going into too much detail in this post, that means most of the cost should be returned in energy savings in a reasonable time frame or work is done for the sake of doing stuff right.  Stuff is safety related, like fire safety, electrical safety or indoor air quality.

When the Twitter Convo seemed to hit the limits of the 140 char blog, Sean suggested that we draft our friend Leah Thayer to help out some how with the issues.  Leah runs the Daily 5 Remodel site and is a connector of people and ideas.  Sean threw out some ideas for a Blog Off type of pushing the 140 limit or perhaps some type of round table to do the same.

This post was to throw out two points on Sean’s wonderful idea and to keep the ball rolling

First the definition of DER – use the Wiki at 30%.  Second, the pushing of the 140 limit should be documented for ourselves and others.  I am open to the options, and look forward to continuing the extended convo.

Speaking of others, at some point AFF got involved with a comment about leakiness.  We all know and appreciate Alexandra’s and Kymberly’s efforts to keep us fit as a fiddle. AFF with her twin KFF are fitness and exercise (please excuse my use of the ‘E’ word?) gurus.

Common Approaches to Heating Your Home: Part III

This is Part III of a 3 part Series.  Part 1 is here; Part 2 is here.

Hybrid Heat Pump

This choice is sometimes referred to as a Dual Fuel Heat Pump. It utilized both gas and electricity to heat your home. The efficiency of a heat pump is because at most heating temperatures, it moves heat from outside to inside.

Think about your refrigerator. When the inside warms up to 40•, the food risks going bad, so the fridge finds the heat and pumps in out.  Your food stays refrigerated. At 40• outside, a heat pump can find heat and efficiently bring it inside. This costs less than consuming natural gas, propane or electricity to produce heat in a furnace.

At much lower temperatures, a heat pump will need a boost to maintain the heat. This is an electric resistance strip heater. It is used in emergency and back up situations.

A hybrid heat pump uses a conventional furnace for emergency and back up. This is less expensive than electric resistance heat.

Your Choice

In our climate zone; I believe the rank of these approaches should be:

  1. Geothermal
  2. Hybrid Heat Pump
  3. Traditional Furnace / AC
  4. Air Source Heat Pump

This ranking is based primarily on Efficiency Issues with overall comfort issues second.  This rank considers only long term operating costs. It does not consider capital costs (installation).

There are two primary considerations for all of the installation and ultimately comfort issues.

  • The home must be ready for an efficient heating/ac equipment installation.  This means the thermal envelope must be sealed and well insulated. Your thermal envelope is defined as the basement walls, or crawl space walls, the wall above ground, the ceiling.
  • The calculations for equipment size, and selection must be done professionally. The use of a recognized computer program authorized by the ACCA (Air Conditioning Contractors of America); showing the Manual J calculations of the improved home for determining heat loads; and the Manual S calculations to select the equipment. You may wish to have your ductwork reviewed and perhaps resized.  This would call for calculations with ACCA Manual D.

The choice to go with Geothermal or ASHP would mean very little gas usage, only the hot water heater. That could be converted to electric with the ASHP. With a Geothermal Unit, you could utilize a system of hot water that is known as ‘de-superheating’.  It uses otherwise wasted heat from the Heat Pump unit to heat water.

The capital costs of these units in the Wichita area are estimated at:

  • Geothermal:               15-25,000 (open or closed loop)
  • ASHP:                           7 -10,000
  • Hybrid Heat Pump:    7 – 10,000
  • Furnace/AC                 7 -10,000

The Geothermal unit is considered to be a renewable energy source and carries a 30% tax credit, with no limit.  It is available through 2016.

Comfort Note: Conventional Furnaces blow heated air into the duct work at temperatures from 105 – 150; depending and the design factors of the furnace.  If you have come in from the cold and stood neat the supply register of a forced air furnace, you feel the heat.  A heat pump type of heating does not create heat to be blown into the duct work at these high temperatures, a heat pump typically blows air into the ducts at 85 – 105 degrees.  This change can cause people to not like a heat pump; air source or ground source. A hybrid heat pump would provide the same range as a furnace with lower outside temperatures.

Please post your questions below as comments!